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Build more with less.


Table of Contents

What is Cardinal?

Cardinal is a modular, “mobile-first” CSS framework built with performance and scalability in mind.

The purpose of this framework is to make it easier for front-end web developers to prototype, build, scale, and maintain CSS for responsive websites, user interfaces, and applications. Cardinal omits many aesthetic design decisions that often bog down other CSS frameworks (which are often UI toolkits, not frameworks), leaving the design and creativity up to you.


  • “Mobile-first” CSS written for the LESS preprocessor
  • normalize.css
  • Sensible global styles, variables, and useful mixins
  • A flexible grid system and encapsulated styles for common UI objects (buttons, forms, tables, etc.)
  • A collection of utility classes optimized for great gzip compression
  • The entire framework, minified and gzipped, clocks in at a mere 11.27kB


If you would like to install Cardinal with the Bower package manager tool, you will first need to install Node.js on your machine or server. Once you have Node.js installed, make sure npm is installed (info here), and use it to install Bower, like so:

npm install -g bower

Also, Cardinal depends on the awesome tool Autoprefixer, which adds the proper vendor prefixes that provide the specified browser support for this project. This way, you don’t have to worry about manually including the correct prefixes while writing LESS/CSS. You are encouraged to incorporate Autoprefixer into your build process (this is easy to do with tools like Grunt or Gulp).

Getting Started

There are several ways that you can use Cardinal in your new and existing web projects.

Package Managers

The fastest way to get up-and-running with Cardinal is by using a package manager, like so:


To install Cardinal with Bower, run the following command(s) from your terminal:

cd your-project-directory
bower install --save cardinal

Once installed, you can find Cardinal here:



To install Cardinal with npm, run the following command(s) from your terminal:

cd your-project-directory
npm install --save cardinalcss

Once installed, you can find Cardinal here:


Updating Cardinal

You can grab the latest version of Cardinal by running the following command(s):


bower update cardinal


npm update cardinal

LESS Plugin

There is also a LESS.js plugin available for Cardinal, created and maintained by @bassjobsen. You can use this plugin to include Cardinal in your project before your custom project code.


npm install less
npm install less-plugin-cardinal


lessc custom.less --cardinal

Direct Download

If you do not want to use a package manager to integrate Cardinal into your project, you can also download it directly:

Build from Source

To do so, you need to already have Node.js and npm installed on your machine. Cardinal uses Gulp to build and watch the CSS files.

git clone
cd cardinal
npm install

Download the Zip

You can also download the .zip file and proceed however you wish. Include the minified CSS file in the <head> of your project, or modify the LESS files directly (not recommended, since it will be difficult to update to future versions). It’s your world!


Including Partials

The easiest way to include Cardinal in your project is to include the entire thing before your project files, like so:

// Vendor

@import url("../../path/to/bower_components/cardinal/cardinal.less");

// Project

@import url("project-file.less");

However, you don’t have to use the entire Cardinal framework. The only required partials are located in the base/ directory:

// Vendor

// Base
// These variables, mixins, and styles are required if you want to use this
// framework, and they should be included in the following order.

// Base -> Variables

@import url("base/variables.less");

// Base -> Mixins

@import url("base/mixins/to-rem.less");
@import url("base/mixins/media-queries.less");
@import url("base/mixins/antialiasing.less");
@import url("base/mixins/clearing.less");
@import url("base/mixins/font-face.less");
@import url("base/mixins/momentum-scrolling.less");
@import url("base/mixins/text-truncate.less");
@import url("base/mixins/vertically-centered.less");

// Base -> Normalize

@import url("base/normalize.less");

// Base -> Reset

@import url("base/reset.less");


//@import url("base/debug.less");

// Base -> Default Styles

@import url("base/root.less");
@import url("base/anchors.less");
@import url("base/text-elements.less");
@import url("base/headings.less");
@import url("base/lists.less");
@import url("base/horizontal-rules.less");
@import url("base/blockquotes.less");
@import url("base/code.less");
@import url("base/embedded-content.less");
@import url("base/form-elements.less");
@import url("base/tables.less");
@import url("base/print.less");

Beyond that, you can use whatever grid system, components, and utilities you would like. The base/ directory just sets some good base styles for the framework.

Modifying Variables

After getting started and including Cardinal, you will probably want to begin customizing it to suit your project. Cardinal has a bunch of LESS variables located in the base/variables.less file that can be tweaked to your needs. These variables should not be edited directly. The recommended way to make changes to Cardinal LESS variables is to create your own project-specific variables file (e.g. project-variables.less), and override the default variables in this file, like so:

// project-variables.less

// Typography -> Font Sizes -> Base

$font-size: 17;

// Typography -> Line height

$line-height: 26;

This file should be included in your main LESS file after you’ve included Cardinal.

Further Documentation

There is a file included in each major directory of this project that further details the code located in those directories.

Browser support

Cardinal supports most modern browsers:

  • Google Chrome 25+
  • Mozilla Firefox 19+
  • Safari 6.0+
  • iOS Safari 6.0+
  • Opera 12.1+
  • Android 4.2+
  • Internet Explorer 9+


Is something broken? Do you have ideas or feature requests? Please submit an issue here on GitHub. Or, if you are feeling especially motivated, write some code and submit a pull request!

IMPORTANT: Before doing a bunch of work, please consult the document, which gives detailed instructions on how to contribute to this project. If you do not follow the instructions, your code will probably not make it into this project.


Cardinal will be maintained using the Semantic Versioning guidelines. From here on out, releases will be numbered using the following format:


  • Breaking backwards compatibility increments major, while resetting minor and patch.
  • New code that does not break backwards compatibility increments minor, while resetting patch.
  • Bug fixes and other small changes increment patch.


Cardinal is a project by @cbracco. Its principles and techniques are very influenced by the following projects, organizations, and individuals:

...and any others I may have forgotten — let me know if I have, and I will certainly add them.

Many thanks for your hard work and great ideas!


Cardinal is licensed under the MIT Open Source license. For more information, see the file in this repository.


A modular, “mobile-first” CSS framework built with performance and scalability in mind.





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